Category: GPS

Keeping the World Ticking Over The Global Timekeepers

  |   By

When we want to know the time it is very simple to look at a clock, watch or one of the myriad devices that display the time such as our mobile phones or computers. But when it comes to setting the time, we rely on the internet, speaking clock or somebody else watch; however, how do we know these clocks are right, and who is it that ensures that time is accurate at all?

Traditionally we have based time on Earth in relation to the rotation of the planet—24 hours in a day, and each hour split into minutes and seconds. But, when atomic clocks were developed in the 1950’s it soon became apparent that the Earth was not a reliable chronometer and that the length of a day varies.

In the modern world, with global communications and technologies such as GPS and the internet, accurate time is highly important so ensuring that there is a timescale that is kept truly accurate is important, but who is it that controls global time, and how accurate is it, really?

Global time is known as UTC—coordinated Universal Time. It is based on the time told by atomic clocks but makes allowances for the inaccuracy of the Earth’s spin by having occasional leap seconds added to UTC to ensure we don’t get into a position where time drifts and ends up having no relation to the daylight or night time (so midnight is always at day and noon is in the day).

UTC is governed by a constellation of scientists and atomic clocks all across the globe. This is done for political reasons so no one country has complete control over the global timescale. In the USA, the National Institute for Standards and Time (NIST), helps govern UTC and broadcast a UTC time signal from Fort Collins in Colorado.

While in the UK, the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) does the same thing and transmits their UTC signal from Cumbria, England. Other physics labs across the world have similar signals and it is these laboratories that ensure UTC is always accurate.

For modern technologies and computer networks, these UTC transmissions enable computer systems across the globe to be synchronised together. The software NTP (Network Time Protocol) is used to distribute these time signals to each machine, ensuring perfect synchronicity, while NTP time servers can receive the radio signals broadcast by the physics laboratories.

How GPS Keeps Clocks Accurate

  |   By

While many of us are aware of GPS (Global Positioning System) as a navigational tool and many of us have ‘sat navs’ in our cars, but the GPS network has another use that is also important to our day-to-day lives but few people realise it.

GPS satellites contain atomic clocks which transmit to earth an accurate time signal; it is this broadcast that satellite navigation devices use to calculate global position. However, there are other uses for this time signal besides navigation.

Nearly all computer networks are kept accurate to an atomic clock. This is because miniscule accuracies across a network can lead to until problems, from security issues to data loss. Most networks use a form of NTP (Network Time Protocol) to synchronise their networks, but NTP requires a main time source to sync to.

GPS is ideal for this, not only is it an atomic clocks source, which NTP can calculate UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) from, which means that the network will be synchronised to every other UTC network on the globe.

GPS is an ideal source of time as it is available literally everywhere on the planet as long as the GPS antenna has a clear view of the sky. And it is not only computer networks that require atomic clock time, all sorts of technologies require accurate synchronisation: traffic lights, CCTV cameras, air traffic control, internet servers, indeed many modern applications and technology without us realising is being kept true by GPS time.

Top use GPS as a source of time, a GPS NTP server is required. These connect to routers, switches or other technology and receive a regular time signal from the GPS satellites. The NTP server then distributes this time across the network, with the protocol NTP continually checking each device to ensure it is not drifting.

GPS NTP servers are not only accurate they are also highly secure. Some network administrators use internet time servers as a source of time but this can lead to problems. Not only is the accuracy of many of these sources questionable, but the signals can be hijacked by malicious software which can breach the network firewall and cause mayhem.

From Pennies to NTP Servers the Intricacies of Keeping Time

  |   By

Keeping accurate time is an essential aspect of our day to day lives. Nearly everything we do is reliant on time from getting up for work in the morning to arranging meetings, nights out or just when it’s time for dinner.

Most of us carry some kind of clock or watch with us but these timepieces are prone to drift which is why most people regularly use another clock of device to set their time too.

In London, by far the most common timepiece that people use to set their watches too is Big Ben. This world famous clock can be seen for miles, which is why so many Londoners use it to ensure their watches and clocks are accurate – but have you ever wondered how Big Ben keeps itself accurate?

Well the unlikely truth lies in a pile of old coins. Big Ben’s clock mechanism uses a pendulum but for fine tuning and ensuring accuracy a small pile of gold coins resting on the top of the pendulum.  If just one coin is removed then the clock’s speed will change by nearly half a second

Ensuring accuracy on a computer network is far less archaic. All computer networks need to run accurate and synchronised time as computers too are completely reliant on knowing the time.

Fortunately, NTP time servers are designed to accurately and reliably keep entire computer networks synchronised. NTP (Network Time Protocol) is a software protocol designed to keep networks accurate and it works by using a single time source that it uses to correct drift on

Most network operators synchronise their computers to a form of UTC time (Coordinated Universal Time) as this is governed by atomic clocks (highly accurate timepieces that never drift – not for several thousand years, anyway).

A source of atomic clock time can be received by a NTP server by using either GPS satellite (Global Positioning System) signals or radio frequencies broadcast by national physics laboratories.

NTP servers ensure that computer networks all across the globe are synchronised, accurate and reliable.

Using Atomic Clock Time Signals

  |   By

Accuracy is becoming more and more relevant as technology becomes increasingly important to the functioning of our everyday lives. And as our economies become more reliant on the global marketplace, accuracy and synchronisation of time is very important.

Computers seem to control much our daily lives and time is essential for the modern computer network infrastructure. Timestamps ensure actions are carried out by computers and are the only point of reference IT systems have for error checking, debugging and logging. A problem with the time on a computer network and it could lead to data getting lost, transactions failing and security issues.

Synchronisation on a network and synchronisation with another network that you communicate with are essential to prevent the above mentioned errors. But when it comes to communicating with networks across the globe things can be even trickier as the time on the other-side of the world is obviously different as you pass each time-zone.

To counter this, a global timescale based on atomic clock time was devised. UTC – Coordinated Universal Time – does away with time-zones enabling all networks across the globe to use the same time source – ensuring that computers, no matter where they are in the world, are synchronised together.

To synchronise a computer network, UTC is distributed using the time synchronisation software NTP (Network Time Protocol). The only complication is receiving a source of UTC time as it is generated by atomic clocks which are multi-million dollar systems that are not available for mass use.

Fortunately, signals from atomic clocks can be received using a NTP time server. These devices can receive radio transmissions that are broadcast from physic laboratories which can be used as a source of time to synchronise an entire network of computers to.

Other NTP time servers use the signals beamed from GPS satellites as a source of time. The positioning information in these signals is actually a time signal generated by atomic clocks onboard the satellites (which is then triangulated by the GPS receivers).

Whether it’s a radio referenced NTP server or a GPS time server – an entire network of hundreds, and even thousands of machines can be synchronised together.

The Time According to UTC (Coordinated Universal Time)

  |   By

The modern world is a small one. These days, in business you are just as likely to be communicating across the Atlantic as you are trading with you neighbour but this can cause difficulties – as anybody trying to get hold of somebody across the other-side of the world will know.

The problem, of course, is time. There are 24 time zones on Earth which means that people you may wish to talk to across the other side of the world, are in bed when you are awake – and vice versa.

Communication is not jus a problem for us humans either; much of our communication is conducted through computers and other technologies that can cause even more problems. Not just because time-zones are different but clocks, whether they are those that power a computer, or an office wall clock, can drift.

Time synchronisation is therefore important to ensure that the device you are communicating with has the same time otherwise whatever transaction you are conducting may result in errors such as the application failing, data getting lost or the machines believing an action has taken place  when it has not.

Coordinated Universal Time

Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) is an international timescale. It pays no heed to time-zones and is kept true by a constellation of atomic clocks – accurate timepieces that do not suffer from drift.

UTC also compensates for the slowing of the Earth’s spin by adding leap seconds to ensure there is no drift that would eventually cause noon to drift towards night (albeit in many millennia; so slow is the slowing of the Earth).

Most technologies and computer networks across the globe use UTC as their source of time, making global communication more feasible.

Network Time Protocol and NTP Time Servers

Receiving UTC time for a computer network is the job of the NTP time server. These devices use Network Time Protocol to distribute the time to all technologies on the NTP network. NTP time servers receive the source of time from a number of different sources.

  • The internet – although  internet time sources can be insecure and unreliable
  • The GPS (Global Positioning System) – using the onboard atomic clocks from navigation satellites.
  • Radio signals – broadcast by national physics laboratories like NPL and NIST.

Using Atomic Clocks for Time Synchronisation

  |   By

The atomic clock is unrivalled in its chronological accuracy. No other method of maintaining time comes close to the precision of an atomic clock. These ultra-precise devices can keep time for thousands of years without losing a second in drift – in comparison to electronic clocks, perhaps the next most accurate devices, which can drift up to a second a day.

Atomic clocks are not practical devices to have around though. They use advanced technologies such as super-coolant liquids, lasers and vacuums – they also require a team of skilled technicians to keep the clocks running.

Atomic clocks are deployed in some technologies. The Global Positioning System (GPS) relies on atomic clocks that operate onboard the unmanned orbiting satellites. These are crucial for working out accurate distances. Because of the speed of light that the signals travel, a one second inaccuracy in any GPS atomic clock would lead to positing information being out by thousands of kilometres – but the actual accuracy of GPS is within a few metres.

While these wholly accurate and precise instruments for measuring time are unparalleled and the expensive of running such devices is unobtainable to most people, synchronising your technology to an atomic clock, in actual fact, is relatively simple.

The atomic clocks onboard the GPS satellites are easily utilised to synchronise many technologies to. The signals that are used to provide positioning information can also be used as a source of atomic clock time.

The simplest way to receive these signals is to use a GPS NTP server (Network Time Protocol). These NTP servers use the atomic clock time signal from the GPS satellites as a reference time, the protocol NTP is then used to distribute this time around a network, checking each device with the GPS time and adjusting to ensure accuracy.

Entire computer networks can be synchronised to the GPS atomic clock time by using just one NTP GPS server, ensuring that all devices are within milliseconds of the same time.

NTP Servers Which Signal is Best Radio or GPS?

  |   By

NTP time servers (Network Time Protocol) are an essential aspect of any computer or technology network. So many applications require accurate timing information that failing to synchronize a network adequately and precisely can lead to all sorts of errors and problems – especially when communicating with other networks.

Accuracy, when it comes to time synchronization, means only one thing – atomic clocks. No other method of keeping time is as accurate or reliable as an atomic clock. In comparison to an electronic clock, such as a digital watch, which will lose up to a second a day – an atomic clock will remain accurate to a second over 100,000 years.

Atomic clocks are not something that can be housed in an average server room though; atomic clocks are very expensive, fragile and require full time technicians to control so are usually only found in large scale physics laboratories such as the ones run by NIST (National Institute of Standards and Time – USA) and NPL (National Physical Laboratory – UK).

Getting a source of accurate time from an atomic clock is relatively easy. For a secure and reliable source of atomic clock time there are only two options (the internet can neither be described as secure nor reliable as a source of time):

  • GPS time
  • UTC time broadcast on long-wave

GPS time, from the USA’s Global Positioning System, is a time stamp generated onboard the atomic clocks on the satellites. There is one distinct advantage about using GPS as a source of time: it is available anywhere on the planet.

All that is required to receive and utilise GPS time is a GPS time sever and antenna; a good clear view of the sky is also needed for an assured signal. Whilst not strictly UTC time (Coordinated Universal Time) being broadcast by GPS (UTC has had 17 leap seconds added to it since the satellites were launched) the timestamp included the information needed for NTP to convert it to the universal time standard.

UTC, however, is broadcast directly from physics laboratories and is available by using a radio referenced NTP server. These signals are not available everywhere but in the USA (the signal is known as WWVB) and most of Europe (MSF and DCF) are covered. These too are highly accurate atomic clock generated time sources and as both methods come from a secure source the computer network will remain secure.

GPS Time Servers Precise Time all the Time

  |   By

Keeping computer networks accurate and synchronised can’t be emphasised highly enough. Accurate time is essential in the modern global economy as computer networks across the globe are required to constantly talk to each other.

Failing to ensure a network is accurate and precise can lead to headache after headache: transactions can fail, data can get lost, and error logging and debugging can be virtually impossible.

Atomic Clocks

Atomic clocks form the basis of the global timescale – UTC (Coordinated Universal Time). UTC is used across the globe by technology and computer networks enabling the entire commercial and technological world to communicate in synchronicity together.

But as atomic clocks are highly technical (and expensive) pieces of hardware that require a team of technicians to control – where do people get a source of such accurate time?

The answer is quite simple; atomic clock timestamps are transmitted by physics laboratories and are avlaible from a whole host of sources – kept accurate by the time software NTP (Network Time Protocol).

NTP Time Servers

The most common location for sources of atomic clock generated UTC is the internet. A whole host of online time servers are avlaible for synchronisation but these can vary in their accuracy and precision. Furthermore, using a source of internet time can create vulnerabilities in the network as the firewall has to allow these timestamps through and therefore can be utilised by viruses and malicious software.

By far the most secure and accurate method of receiving a source of atomic clock generated time is to utilise the GPS network (Global Positioning System).

GPS time servers are unique in that as long as there is a clear view of the sky they can receive a source of time – anywhere on the globe, 24 hours-a-day, 365 days a year.

They are also highly accurate with a single GPS NTP time server able to synchronise entire networks to just a few milliseconds of UTC.

Competition for GPS Ever Closer

  |   By

Written by Richard N Williams for Galleon Systems

Since its release to the civilian population the Global Positioning System (GPS) has greatly improved and enhanced our world. From satellite navigation to the precise time used by NTP servers (Network Time Protocol) and much or our modern world’s technology.

And GPS has for several years been the only Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) and is used the world over, however, times are now changing.

There are now three other GNSS systems on the horizon that will not only act as competition for GPS but will also increase its precision and accuracy.

Glonass is a Russian GNSS system that was developed during the Cold War. However, after the fall of the Soviet Union the system fell into disrepair but it has finally been revamped and is now back up and running.

The Glonass system is now being used as a navigational aid by Russian airlines and their emergency services with in-car GNSS receivers also being rolled out for the general population to use. And the Glonass system is also allowing time synchronisation using NTP time servers as it uses the same atomic clock technology as GPS.

And Glonass is not the only competition for GPS either. The European Galileo system is on track with the first satellites expected to be launched at the end of 2010 and the Chinese Compass system is also expected to be online soon which will make four fully operational GNSS systems orbiting above Earth’s orbit.

And this is good news for those interested in ultra high time synchronisation as the systems should all be interoperable meaning anyone looking to GNSS satellites can use multiple systems to ensure even greater accuracy.

It is expected that interoperable GNSS NTP time servers will soon be available to make use of these new technologies.

European Rival to GPS takes a Further Step Forward

  |   By

The long awaited European rival to the USA Global Positioning System, Galileo, has taken a step forward to realisation with the delivery of the payload for first satellite.

The payload, which contains the “brains” of the Galileo satellite, includes the atomic clocks that are the basis for all global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) and provide both the positing information and the GPS time signal used by so many GPS NTP time servers for network synchronisation.

Galileo is set to not only rival the current American run GPS system, but for time synchronisation applications it is expected to operate in tandem ensuring even greater accuracy for those seeking a source of UTC time.

Galileo has undergone a lot of uncertainty since the multi-billion Euro project was first designed over a decade ago but the delivery of the first satellite’s payload to Rome, where the equipment is being finalised in preparation for launch early next year, is a real boon to the project which has often fallen into doubt.

Just like GPS, Galileo will be a fully operation navigational satellite system but will offer even greater accuracy that its aging predecessor and provide Europe with their own navigational system that isn’t owned and controlled by the US military.

As well as the positing information that will be used by motorists, pilots and other travellers, Galileo will also provide a secure and accurate source of time for the world’s computer networks and technologies to ensure synchronicity.

Currently, GPS is alone in providing this secure service, although radio transmissions in some countries provide an alternative to the GPS time server signals, although they are not as wide spread as GPS.

The first Galileo satellite is expected to reach orbit in early 2011, with the entire network planned to be operation in 2014 – although if past experiences with the project are anything to go on – you should expect at least a few delays.